Hartford Correctional Center. Attempts to end the cash bail system in Connecticut, which some say is overly burdensome on the poor, have not been successful. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org
A protestor outside York Correctional Institution on April 13, demanding the freeing of prisoners at risk of infection from the Covid-19 virus. Cloe Poisson / CT Mirror.org

Three weeks into the Department of Correction’s vaccinations of the incarcerated population, 837 inmates — less than 10% of the 9,034 people in prisons and jails as of Feb. 22 — have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The department received another 500 doses Tuesday morning. Department Director of External Affairs Karen Martucci said the DOC has used all of the shots it has received and is seeking more.

“We roll them out as they come in,” said Martucci.

The DOC began vaccinating the 27 incarcerated individuals 75 or older in early February and then began vaccinating people between the ages of 65 and 74.

“Currently, we are offering a number of vaccines at different locations – Osborn, Willard-Cybulski, MacDougall-Walker, Cheshire, Corrigan-Radgowski, Garner and York,” Martucci said in an email. “We are not vaccinating an entire prison in one shot to avoid overburdening our medical staff that may have to tend to those experiencing side effects. We started with inmates assigned to the medical units and then went unit to unit from there.”

Almost 350 incarcerated people have refused the vaccine. Martucci said the department will circle back to those who declined a shot later on, suggesting they may change their mind once more of their peers are vaccinated.

The vaccine rollout rate among prisoners is slightly below the rate among the general population, according to state data. About 13% of the general population, and about 62% of 75-and-older residents, have received at least a first dose.

But Kathy Flaherty, the executive director of Connecticut Legal Rights Project, Inc., criticized the pace of the deployment.

“These folks should have been vaccinated when they vaccinated patients in nursing homes,” she said. “I believe that these congregate facilities pose the same risk as people in nursing homes, and should have been prioritized similarly. That was a population that was within the state’s care and custody, that they literally have responsibility for.”

Considering the racial disparities in the incarcerated population, vaccinations will disproportionately benefit racial and ethnic minorities. As of Feb. 1, about 72% of people in prisons and jails were Black or Hispanic.

The department has continued its heavy use of mass testing of the incarcerated population, Martucci said. The recent results have been positive: the positivity rate for the past two rounds has been 1%, she said.

The agency’s three-week vaccination clinic for corrections staff ended Monday. Commissioner Designate Angel Quiros said in his confirmation hearing in January that less than half of the 5,400 corrections staff planned on getting the vaccine. That projection proved largely accurate: about 41% of corrections staff got their first dose of the inoculation during the clinic.

Martucci said the vaccination rate among staff was comparable with corrections systems in other states.

“We’d certainly like to see a higher threshold of compliance,” Martucci said. “Our job was really to educate, and in the end it’s someone’s personal decision.”

The department’s figures on vaccination compliance among staff is based on figures from the DOC’s clinics, Martucci said; it does not include staff who chose instead to get vaccinated at community sites or at local health districts.

Martucci said there were no plans to reopen first-dose clinics for corrections staff, but they could get the first dose once their age bracket is eligible for vaccination.

“Nothing’s scheduled other than now we’re prepping for dose 2 clinics,” she said.

The DOC isn’t the only state agency in charge of congregate settings that hasn’t finished vaccinating its residents. The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services had provided vaccines to 27% of its 491 people receiving inpatient treatment at its facilities.

“DMHAS is early in the vaccination process, and we anticipate these numbers to increase over the next few days,” Spokesperson Arthur Mongillo said in an email.

Kelan is a Report For America Corps Member who covers the intersection of mental health and criminal justice for CT Mirror. Before joining CT Mirror, Kelan was a staff writer for City Weekly, an alt weekly in Salt Lake City, Utah, and a courts reporter for The Bryan-College Station Eagle, in Texas. He is originally from Philadelphia.

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